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It may be time to step up your mask game. Here’s how.

As more contagious COVID-19 variants have emerged, the CDC has released new guidance on double masking, or wearing a cloth mask over a disposable mask, to increase protection from getting and spreading COVID-19. 

This may have you asking, “Are two masks really better than one?” 

Here’s what you need to know about double masking and boosting your mask’s effectiveness against COVID-19.

Your mask protects you — and those around you

COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets, which travel through the air when you cough, sneeze or talk. 

And when worn correctly, over your nose and mouth, a mask is a barrier that helps prevent the spread of these droplets.

But masks aren’t one-size-fits-all, and how you wear them can affect the level of protection they offer. While double masking can be effective, experts say this new guidance is more about improving the way your mask fits your face.

“If your mask is always falling down, or it causes your glasses to fog up, it’s not working as well as it should,” says Dr. Stanley Martin, system director of infectious diseases at Geisinger. “Whether you decide to double mask or make adjustments to your current mask, the goal should be to achieve the best fit possible.”

It’s all about the fit

The CDC’s new guidance doesn’t change who should wear a mask and when. Instead, it suggests everyone take steps to improve the way their mask fits. 

In a recent study, the CDC found that wearing any type of mask was better than not wearing a mask at all. And modifying the mask to fit better, either by double masking or tying knots on the ear loops of a disposable mask, reduced transmission of and exposure to respiratory droplets by about 95%.

“If you’re getting one disposable mask to fit properly, extra masks aren’t necessary,” says Dr. Martin.

Tips for improving your mask’s fit

Wear a mask that fits snugly against your face and has at least two layers for the best protection, the CDC says. 

Easy ways to modify your mask for a better fit:

  • Add a nose wire – Choosing a mask with a nose wire (or adding one yourself) can help keep air from leaking out of the top of your mask. For those who wear glasses, the bonus is less fogging.
  • Tie knots and tuck – To help loose masks fit better, you can tie knots on the ear loops and tuck in any extra material on the sides.
  • Use a mask fitter or brace – You can wear these reusable braces on top of a disposable or cloth mask to help create a better fit and prevent air from escaping.
  • Add layers – Layering a cloth mask over a disposable mask can help improve the fit — and protection — of your disposable mask.

If you choose to double mask, there are some things to keep in mind: “Double masking isn’t meant for all masks,” advises Dr. Martin. “Avoid layering two disposable masks. And don’t layer another mask on top of KN95 or N95 masks.”


Double masking infographic

Next steps:

Meet Stanley Martin, MD
Face masks: Know your options
What you need to know about COVID-19 variants

 
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COVID-19 updates: Visit Geisinger's Coronavirus Resource Center for the latest information and helpful resources.